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SOUTH-CENTRAL : At Jacobs' Cafe, It's the Chicken

February 07, 1993|ELSTON CARR

At Jacobs' Cafe, patrons say everything is good--the beef short ribs, neck bones, ox tails, pig tails, hog maws, pig's feet, red beans, yams and corn bread sticks. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they flock to the restaurant for the chicken.

On a recent Tuesday--a "Chicken Tuesday," some customers call it--the lunch crowd packed into the 60-seat restaurant for the famous Southern fried chicken.

"This has got to be some of the best chicken in Los Angeles," said Roosevelt Lindsey, an insurance agent. "I don't like to eat a whole lot of fried foods, but on Tuesdays, I come here when I can."

Founded in 1947 by Artelyous Jacobs, a native of Grand Cane, La., who came to Los Angeles five years earlier, Jacobs' Cafe is a remnant of a time when streetcars ran along Central Avenue, when most African-Americans lived in a segregated area east of Broadway, and South-Central nightspots featured jazz greats like Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker.

Back then, when a Jacobs' chicken dinner cost 89 cents (it's $6.25 now) and a cup of coffee was a nickel, the eatery attracted blue-collar workers, professionals and artists such as the late James Baldwin.

Today, Mayor Tom Bradley and Councilwoman Rita Walters are among those who pass through the Southern-style restaurant.

Carolyn Jacobs-Celestine, who now manages the family-owned business with a seven-person staff, said patrons come from as far as Pomona, Pasadena, the Westside and Long Beach.

In addition to serving an economically and geographically diverse clientele, the cafe also caters for film and TV studios and for shows such as the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air."

Originally at 22nd Street and Griffith Avenue, the cafe, which is closed Friday and Saturday, moved to a larger location at 4705 S. Broadway in 1990.

"A lot of places are gone now," said John Allen, a 60-year-old liquor store owner who has been eating at Jacobs' for 25 years. "This is one of the few places left."

Williemae Watson, a computer operator for the county registrar recorder's office, drives weekly from her job in the City of Commerce for a takeout order of chicken.

"I just catch the Harbor, and I'm right here," said Watson, who has eaten at Jacobs' for 10 years. "This is about the only place where you can get a home-cooked meal. The chicken has that down-home taste to it. You know how you're in the kitchen and you have that deep-fried crunchy chicken that's still juicy. Here is the place. The whole menu is good, but I prefer the chicken."

Watson stood with her back to the front door a few feet from a line that stretched from the counter to the entrance. To her left, six men sat shoulder to shoulder on green, vinyl swivel stools at a counter.

Behind the counter, a color TV, which sits below photographs of Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jackson and Barry White, was tuned to an afternoon soap opera.

Sitting at the end of the white Formica counter, Allen said the high-calorie fare is a pleasant change from a regimented diet he follows to lower his high blood pressure. "I figure (eating here) once in a while won't kill me."

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